Tuesday, October 16, 2007

visa or ipod?

Today was our appointment at the US embassy. Sage's visa needed to be renewed, and while only a single parent was actually needed to accompany her (according to the rules), I decided to go as well to spare ourselves yet another document explaining that this child indeed had a father who was not present because of work.

I miss the old drop box method of renewal and dreaded the new system (whenever I think of the Us embassy, I think of countless hours in line, shifting from one counter to the next, before finally being called to speak to someone behind glass whose disposition, including whether or not they were having a great day, had impact on the visa's approval). Before we left, Nikki reminded me that no cell phones were permitted inside the embassy (I know, a day without my O2, without the ability to make or receive calls was something I had to deal with, silently, for a minute). I emptied my laptop bag of everything (or so I thought) and stuffed it with the thick folders full of various required documents ( of which, to flash forward, none were actually resquested to be perused by the consul - but still, it always makes sense to be prepared).

Traffic was hell but we got there in time. Outside there were huge signs that vindicated Nikki's warning: no cellphones. One of them was more specific - no electronic devices. Having thoughtfully cleared out my laptop bag of such things, I had to reason to fear and took my place in the line. It was at this point that I did an automatic hand thing and ripped open the velcro of one of my bag's pockets and discovered my ipod - normally a blessed thing but now suddenly transformed into an illegal object. I held up the offensive music player to Nikki's shocked eyes and I felt like I betrayed us all.

The gatekeepers shook their heads sadly and told me that there was no way I could take my ipod inside. I had to leave it outside. I smiled and offered it to them to hold for me until we were done. Once again, they shook their heads sadly and told me that no, no, they could not hold to such things. They told me I could deposit it at the police station in Luneta - which was too far to walk given the fact that our interview was in 30 minutes. The crowd behind me was getting ugly since I was holding up the line as I pleaded to be let in to prove my daughter's parentage (as well as my ties to country and all the marvelous things in the folders in my bag). For a moment, I considered giving my ipod away or hiding it behind a neat row of ornamental plants. But I couldn't, I just couldn't abandon the device that gave me music from the lost 80s.

I turned around in desperation and saw a vendor looking at me. She winked and gestured to me.

"Ibigay mo sa akin," she said when I approached. "Ibabalik ko sa iyo mamaya."

She must have sensed my sad resignation as I handed it to her. I felt like I would never see it again - but dammit, my child needed me.

"Bayaran mo ako ng P150 mamaya," she instructed as she stuffed my beautiful ipod into her giant belt pouch. I noticed that it was full of cell phones and another ipod. "Dito lang ako, huwag kang magaalala."

She pushed a laminated piece of cardboard with the number 8 printed on it in thick red marker.

"Eto claim number mo, okay?"

Wrestling with my deeply-ingrained suspicions, I nodded once and ran back to the gatekeepers to join my wife and daughter.

Inside, we lined up first for the initial document check that gave us a number for finger scanning. Since Sage was under 14 years, she did not need to be scannned by still had to be seen in person by the finger scanning officer. When all of that was done, we waited and waited and soon Sage was called for her interview.

SAGE: Hi and good afternoon!

CONSUL: Hi, what is your name?

SAGE: Sage Alfar.

C: How old are you?

SAGE: I'm five.

C (to NIKKI and DEAN): Are you her parents?

N & D: Yes.

C: How many children do you have?

(Both NIKKI and DEAN point to SAGE)

N: Just this one.

C: Do you both have visas?

N & D: Yes.

(DEAN readies the voluminous folders in his bag)

C (handing SAGE a yellow piece of paper): Okay. You're approved, Sage.

SAGE: Thank you!

It happened so fast that neither Nikki nor I could perform the correct response. After many seasons of American Idol and, recently, So You Think You Can Dance, I felt one of us should have stepped back, turned around to address everyone else in the room, wave the yellow slip and cry "I'm going to Hollywood!". Which, no doubt, would have resulted in the visa being revoked.

Sage was extremely delighted at the prospect of seeing her grandmother again (Nikki's mom) and did her best to cheer me up as Nikki went to talk to the Delbros people regarding the delivery of Sage's visa-ed passport. I was happy my daughter's visa was renewed but sad at the loss of my ipod - because I was dead certain that woman I entrusted it to had already sold it to someone else (who, at that moment, was either thrilled at my massive collection of Ryuichi Sakamoto tracks or stunned by my secreted Debbie Gibson).

Once outside I looked at the empty sidewalks and despaired. Until, like a mirage, the woman walked up to me and asked for her laminated piece of cardboard. What happened next illuminated for me what it means to be junkie. I gave her P150 and could barely contain my joy as she unzipped her belt pouch and produced a clear plastic bag containing my blackclad ipod.

I was so delighted that I did not bother to be upset that people were taking advantage of other people. My daughter got her visa and I got my ipod back.

What a wonderful world.



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